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The Complete Guide to Getting Your Sponsor Licence (SME)

Obtaining a Licence to Sponsor overseas workers for your small or medium-sized business could give you the competitive edge it needs to succeed.

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    Obtaining a Licence to Sponsor overseas workers for your small or medium-sized business could give you the competitive edge it needs to succeed. If you’re stuck for workers and would like to expand your vacancies to an international audience, you may need to consider applying for a Sponsorship Licence. Sponsorship licences can cover a range of jobs from permanent to temporary positions. They are an important way to encourage diversity in your company and ensure you get the best candidates, regardless of where they’re coming from.

    A Sponsorship Licence for your business covers Tier 2 and Tier 5 visas. The Tier 2 Visa is for long-term skilled positions. The Tier 5 route is for temporary workers who will be employed for 12 months or less. The Sponsor Licence will allow you to grant a Certificate of Sponsorship to whichever tier or tiers that you choose.


    As long as you or your company has no unspent criminal convictions against you, you are more than likely eligible to apply for a Sponsor Licence. These convictions can include immigration offences, as well as issues with fraud or money laundering – if you’re a genuine, honest business owner, you won’t need to worry about this part.

    The only other issue you may encounter would be for a history of failing to carry out sponsorship duties in the past. For fresh applicants, a clean criminal history will mean you face little opposition for eligibility.

    Sponsorship Management

    Your company will need appropriate monitoring systems for your overseas workers. There are three job titles outlined by the Home Office necessary to operate the Sponsorship Management System (SMS). These include:

    • Authorising officer: this is a senior role responsible for the staff who operate the SMS.
    • Key contact: this person will liaise with UK Visas and Immigration when required.
    • Level 1 user: this is a role responsible for the day-to-day management of the SMS.

    These roles can all be filled by one person if necessary, which may be a stroke of luck for small business owners who can’t spare three separate employees to cover the SMS.

    The person(s) in these roles will need to have no criminal convictions against them and also be able to prove that they live in the UK the majority of the time.

    The Home Office expects you to have an HR team to manage these positions but have also stipulated that this can be subcontracted – another win if you have less than 50 employees to begin with.

    Documents for your Sponsor Licence application

    Supporting documents expected for your application vary depending on the size and sector of your business. For example, if you are a public body, no documents are required.

    For a small business, supporting documents could include:

    • a list of all your current employees and their roles;
    • a letter detailing why you’re applying, what sector you’re in and you’re operating hours; and
    • details of the jobs you’re looking to fill, as well as information on candidates you may have already identified.

    Cost of your application

    Once you have decided which types of visa you will need to sponsor, you will be able to determine the cost. For a small business, a Tier 2 or Tier 5 Sponsor Licence will cost £536. This fee is also the same if you’re applying for both Tier 2 and Tier 5. For large businesses, a Tier 5 application is £536 and a Tier 2 or both will cost £1,476.

    How long your sponsorship lasts

    Once you’re granted your Sponsor Licence, it will last for four years. The renewal service is also operated through the SMS. As long as you make sure to renew before your licence expires, this will be a relatively simple process.

    The licence is rated either A or B. All businesses will begin on A and stay there unless the Home Office finds out that the correct procedures are not being followed. Once on a B rating, you will be expected to make changes or risk a Sponsor Licence revocation.

    If you would like to read more about the Sponsor Licence, visit our homepage for more information.

    Request a call back from one of our expert advisers. We have offices located across the UK, including in LondonManchester, or Birmingham. You can also use the office finder to find the closest branch to you.

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